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A Voyage of Discovery

Rainbow over the Tiber Valley, Italy

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over my career and one of my ice breakers was always “Tell me a little about yourself”.  Generally, people love to talk about themselves and will free flow into all kinds of things that you shouldn’t ask them in an interview.  Sneaky?  Yes, but effective.  One of the top things that people said was “I’m a people person.”  I guess they thought that was a good thing, perhaps indicating that they get along with people and like to be around people.  In an office environment this would be considered a plus.  I heard it so much I came to think of it as some worn out cliche that people thought they should be saying but didn’t know exactly what it meant or if they truly qualified.

I am not a people person.  People who know me well are nodding their heads right now and muttering “boy, that’s the truth.”  I have a very small (I like to think carefully curated) group of friends.  I know lots of people, but there’s only so far you can go with me.  I’m married to one of those people persons.  He gallops off into social situations like he’s going to be rewarded for how many people he meets.  I get a drink and plate and find the most obscure corner to sit.  Recently we went to a big Italian lunch buffet at someone’s home.  I didn’t want to take my purse, but needed it for one very important reason: it contains my lipstick and my pants didn’t have pockets.  Who thought it was a good idea to make pants with no pockets?  Steve said, “Just give it to me and I’ll carry it for you.”  Isn’t that sweet and thoughtful?  Yes, indeed it is.  But I never see him at parties.  He’s gone the second we hit the property line and I knew I’d be left with naked lips.  So I dragged my purse and applied lipstick to my heart’s content because I was sitting in an obscure corner by myself eating and drinking.

So it may come as a surprise to you to learn that we hosted three groups of people during a two-week period in April and I loved it.  I was not acquainted with all of them.  Some I knew well, others I met when they crossed the threshold.  I’ve already written about one of them who captivated me with his life story.  I wish I had interviewed him back in the day.  That would have been an interesting interview.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I enjoyed about these visits so much and I have some theories.

First of all, I love to show people Anghiari.  I’m not a good tour guide, but I think my passion comes through.  I know a little about the buildings and landmarks, which is the oldest church, where the most precious works of art are, that kind of thing.  But when I watch people walk through this medieval town for the first time, it makes me smile.  Some people are harder to read than others, but everyone finds it captivating.  It’s so very different from anything that we experience in the US.  Even if you’re not into history, the charm of this place will get you.  Walking the old cobblestone streets between crooked buildings that have been housing people for centuries gives most people chills.  Peeking into hidden gardens that you would never know were there makes most people gasp.  They realize that this is not Disneyland or Hollywood – it’s a real place where real people live.  Then we come to the massive wall that wraps around this town and look down into the lush Tiber Valley below.  The view is sweeping and massive – almost too much to take in.  The Apennines rise sharply on the other side of the valley.  The valley is a patchwork of fields – brown, green, yellow.  The white roads snake though the valley and disappear around hills.  Where do they lead?

The second theory is I just love to hear southern accents.  I’ve written about this before and how hearing them here give water to our roots.  Not everyone we host has one, but this time they all did.  We had natives of Georgia, Texas, and Florida (well, one was from DC but he managed to pick up a lovely southern accent along the way).  All drawling like the day they learned to talk.  Sometimes I don’t know how much I miss talking to southerners until I sit down with them.  Southerners have a way about them that puts me at ease.  And in this land where I can say a grand total of 14 words, having a real conversation with someone is a treat indeed.  I’ve come to appreciate accents and tones more than ever living here.  And hearing my native accent is a pleasure that I can’t describe.  It grounds me, somehow, even though my heart is in Italy.  I love being reminded of the fact that I come from a place where people bring you homemade preserves and casseroles when you’re sick.  A land of pass-along plants and Sundays making homemade peach ice cream on the porch.  I love living in Italy and feel like I’ve truly found my place in the world, but my southern roots are strong.

The third, and most important theory, is that these were just some fine darn people.  While we all shared a southern bond, it was as diverse a group as I could imagine.  And I love that.  Ministers, lawyers, doctors, business people, teachers, city dwellers, country dwellers – what grand diversity!  Some even managed to make great friends with Millie, our dog, who is generally not a people person (she takes after me).  There were no stereotypes here, just unique individuals who all shared something more than just a southern heritage – a love of travel.  They are excited by seeing what the world has to offer.  And the fact that they all wanted to make a stop in Anghiari thrills me.  I hope that they enjoyed their visits here as much as we enjoyed welcoming them.  And we do so hope they come back.

Maybe I am a people person, after all.  Put me in a room with dozens of people and I will wilt.  But with one, two, three, or four – small groups – I find joy.  Getting to know people, finding out what they are about, hearing their life experiences, is learning about the world.  It reminds you that your own boundaries are imaginary lines that you concocted and can cross at will.  It affirms your faith in the goodness of mankind and the durability of the human spirit.  You hear stories that bring tears to your eyes and theirs – some pain lingering in the soul after decades have tried to wash it away.  And you see how the world moves forward in a ballet of contributions that combine to form a society and make it strong.

We have more visitors coming over the course of the year.  I look forward to each one and relish the time spent together.  After each group leaves, I marvel that these fine people chose to spend time with us.  That’s the highest compliment anyone could be paid, don’t you think?

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